The Christmas He Loved Her (Bad Boys of Crystal Lake, #2) - Juliana Stone First reviewed at Red Hot Books

Earlier this year, I reviewed the first book in Juliana Stone’s Bad Boys of Crystal Lake series and I really enjoyed it for a solid small town romance with a rock star. Stone returns with her second novel in a flurry of angst and emotions. If you were expecting a light hearted holiday book, turn around now.

Raine Edwards has been a walking ghost ever since her husband Jesse was killed during deployment in Afghanistan 18 months ago. As if that wasn’t hard enough, the one other person she could always lean on, Jake, Jesse’s twin brother, bails on her without so much as a see-ya-later. She spends her days half-heartedly taking care of a puppy and generally trying to avoid contact with the outside world, especially her estranged mother. Raine exists only in a grief fueled depression quietly wasting away until Jake shows up on her doorstep.

Jake Edwards returns to Crystal Lake, and Raine, a guilt ridden haunted man – guilt for not saving his brother in Afghanistan, for surviving and for being in love with his brother’s widow since they were kids. Jake is home to try to put some of his demons to rest but Jesse’s death has had a ripple effect on the whole family that is still keeping them all bound in a transitory place of pain. It’s only when Jake and Raine finally concede their long simmering attraction that the journey of healing begins.

I’m not usually one for the brother’s widow trope. Even after this book, it’s still not my favorite, but I believe Stone does pull off the plausibility of their relationship founded on Raine’s childhood crush on Jake even though the particulars are not spelled out. I would have liked if she had explored more of their early connection, but wasn’t a mark in my book.

I won’t lie to you – their story is sorrowful. Raine’s mourning over Jesse is so aching and heartfelt any reader could empathize. And Jake…the weight of this poor man’s guilt is almost suffocating. Fortunately, just before it got to be too much to even read about, Jake would break through to the next step easing the angst a bit. Stone is skilled in writing the fine line so that their sadness was not overblown and trite. When the couple finally breaks through their personal barriers, I felt myself taking a deep breath for them.

The rest of the Bad Boys make a brief appearance and readers are introduced to Lily St. Clare, a sister of one of Jake’s teammates who he befriended who will be hooking up with Mac in the third book, The Day He Kissed Her. I expect another hand wringer as both Mac and Lily are damaged even more than Jake and Raine!

Another solid and poignant read from Stone that I can happily recommend.

Grade: B+

*ARC provided by SOURCEBOOKS Casablanca via NetGalley